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The Yucaipa Ridge

July 9 & 16, 2011

By: Mat Kelliher

The Yucaipa Ridge is a relatively narrow east-west trending ridge in San Bernardino County that is located south of San Gorgonio Mountain and north of San Jacinto Peak. The Ridge is highest on its eastern edge where it rises more than 7,000' above the town of Banning; from east to west it loses more than 5,000' in elevation over about 10 miles. The views from atop the Ridge are spectacular and are likely the reason that a few of the peaks along it were included as part of the original 1946 HPS List. To the south are magnificent vistas of San Jacinto and the awesome San Andreas Fault Zone which carves out the whole Banning Pass area far, far below; to the north the boulder-strewn wash of Mill Creek and the steeply rising forested slopes and grassy gullies of the San Gorgonio group are spectacularly in view.

Currently the HPS has seven named peaks along the Yucaipa Ridge. From east to west (and highest to lowest) they are: Galena Peak (9,324'), Little San Gorgonio Peak (9,133'), Wilshire Mountain (8,832'), Wilshire Peak (8,680+), Cedar Mountain (8,324'), Birch Mountain (7,826'), and Allen Peak (5,796'). While it is possible to hike the entire Yucaipa Ridge from Galena Peak to Allen Peak as one continuous day hike, the section between Galena and Little San Gorgonio is reported to cover severely rugged terrain that requires a great deal of comfort and experience on class 3 rock. We decided to break our traverse of the Yucaipa into two segments; the first a Saturday hike to Galena Peak and back, the second a traverse along the ridge from Little San Gorgonio to Allen Peak on the following Saturday.

On Saturday July 9, 2011 a group of 11, led by Peter & Ignacia Doggett and co-led by Chris Spisak, Lilly Fukui, and myself set out from the Vivian Creek Trailhead parking lot up the boulder filled streambed of Mill Creek. Evidence of the scale of this past year's strong winter and spring storms was abundant as we headed upstream toward the Mill Creek Jumpoff; fresh debris slides seemed to have piled up and issue out of every little major and minor side canyon and gully we crossed. Water cascaded from numerous gullies high up canyon walls, primarily on the northern side, indicating continued erosion is still in progress. As we approached the "Headwall" it seemed that we encountered more and more freshly fallen mud and rock in the streambed; it looked as if it had only just recently hardened as its storm-derived water suddenly drained out of it. Ignacia thought the Headwall itself was in about the worst shape she's ever seen it in her many times there; it was especially loose and nearly devoid of any hand or foothold. But once we were on the Headwall, Peter and Ignacia expertly guided us across its slippery surface. Not enough can be said about how knowledgeable and patient those Doggetts were in explaining and demonstrating to us exactly how to safely get both up and then back down the headwall. I think I can safely say that every one of us who were on that outing feels a debt of gratitude to Peter and Ignacia for their patient and gracious assistance.

Galena Headwall
Traversing across the Galena Headwall. From bottom of photo up and to the right: Mari Sakai, Lilly Fukui, Pieter Kaufman. Peter Doggett in yellow behind gray boulder, Ignacia Doggett to the right. Photo by Mat Kelliher.

Once we'd crossed the headwall we ate a little lunch and then climbed steeply up to the summit. As we climbed we were treated to magnificent views of the Mill Creek drainage below us; at spots our route would expose open vistas with dizzying drop offs, seemingly thousands of feet of empty air between us and the streambed below. On the summit of Galena we were treated to our first view south from the Yucaipa Ridge; an astonishing glimpse of San Jacinto with the Banning Pass so far below, to the southeast way out into the flat depression of the Salton Trough, to the east to the badland topography that borders the western edge of Joshua Tree, to the west a vague hint at the extent of the entire Yucaipa Ridge which could only just be made out behind West Galena and through the afternoon haze. We came back down from the summit, across the Headwall, and back down to the trailhead without incident. Of the 11 who started out on our adventure, 10 made it across the Headwall, and nine made it to the summit. All of us made it back to the cars. Including the leaders and co-leaders already mentioned, the participants included Tanya Roton, Stella Cheung, Laura Franciosi, Mari Sakai, Pieter Kaufman, and Jessie Slater.

On the following Saturday July 16, 2011 a group of 9, led by myself and Jim Fleming and co-led by Winnette Butler, Chris Spisak, and Lilly Fukui, met at the Mill Creek Ranger Station in Mentone, CA. After having previously been granted permission along with the current gate key code, we drove into the Bear Paw Preserve where we parked about half of our vehicles. Those who parked hopped into the non-parked cars and we drove over to the Vivian Creek Trailhead parking lot. Once there we quickly got our boots tied up and our gear lashed down, and off we went; up Mill Creek on our way to Little San Gorgonio Peak. After about ¾ mile I led our group south and headed up a gravel wash east of Camp Creek and then up its adjacent very, very steep forested ridge on the north side of the Yucaipa Ridge. We took our time getting up the steep - over this section of about 2 miles we'd gain nearly 3,300', no reason to rush through it. At the top of the steep ridge we were treated to a short traverse along its very narrow top as we headed southeast towards the saddle at 8,440'; we got our first glimpse of the north side of Little San Gorgonio and a jaw-dropping view of the Mill Creek wash way, way, way down below us from along this ridge top. Soon our ridge intersected the Yucaipa Ridge where we turned west and after climbing steeply we were on the summit of Little San Gorgonio. We had lunch on the summit while enjoying the magnificent views of Galena and West Galena to our east, to the south we were treated to fantastic views of San Jacinto and the Banning Pass below with pine topped crags and lots of empty air framing that scene; to the north Gorgonio, Jepson, and Dobbs stood silently above their pine and grass covered slopes. To the west the pine-covered, craggy bumps composing our still unexplored portion of the Yucaipa Ridge lay before us.

Somewhere up the Steep
Somewhere up the Steep enroute to Little San Gorgonio Peak. Left to right: John Slagle, Winnette Butler, Lilly Fukui, Chris Spisak, Jim Fleming, Stella Cheung, John 'Pinetar' Wilson, Tanya Roton. Photo by Mat Kelliher

From Little San Gorgonio Jim led us west on our traverse across the ridge top through the trees with beauty all around us. The weather was perfect up there with temperatures in the high 60's - low 70's and an occasional gentle breeze coming in from the south. It was a short and easy little stroll to Wilshire Mountain. From Wilshire Mountain Winnette led us on a pleasant walk along the ridge and through the trees to Wilshire Peak; once on the summit of Wilshire Peak we congratulated Winnette on her 100th HPS Peak lead!, and helped her finish off her celebration cookies.

Winnette Butler's 100th Lead on Wilshire Peak, 2011
Winnette Butler's 100th Lead
July 16, 2011 on Wilshire Peak
Photo by Mat Kelliher

From Wilshire Peak Lilly led us to Oak Glen Peak. For reasons unknown to any of us, Oak Glen Peak isn't on the HPS List, but it's an awfully nice peak anyway and it has a register, so we all signed in there and continued on our way. Chris led us west from Oak Glen Peak to Cedar Mountain on a traverse that took us down in elevation several hundred feet and then right back up; definitely tougher than what we'd seen on the ridge top so far. From Cedar Mountain Jim led us west to Birch Mountain. The traverse along this section was tough; lots of up and down followed by a very steep ascent to the summit of Birch. Once on Birch we happily made note that we were more than half way through our journey, and all admitted to feeling a little tired. From Birch I led us west towards the Allen-Birch summit, but while on the vague use trail some distance down from the summit I took a wrong turn that landed us all in the brush for a little while. Jim's keen navigational skills soon got us back on a well defined trail; it turns out we hadn't been too far from it at all. Soon the trail turned to a fire road in very good condition and as we hiked down it the sun set in the west behind Allen Peak while the one-day-old full moon rose in the east.

At the Allen-Birch Saddle most of our group returned to the cars. But Jim Fleming, John Slagle, and I continued west through the warm summer night over first road and then well defined use trail to the summit of Allen Peak where we were treated to vast views of a slightly moon washed starry night sky with the dark silhouettes of nearby landforms to our east and below us. We arrived back at the cars about an hour after the rest of the group did. Including the leaders and co-leaders already mentioned our participants included Tanya Roton, Stella Cheung, John Slagle and John 'Pinetar' Wilson. All of us owe and offer our thanks to the Wildlands Conservancy for permission to enter and use the Bear Paw Preserve, and especially to Evan Welsh for his assistance in providing access information and sharing his first-hand knowledge of current conditions that he obtained during his traverse of the entire Yucaipa Ridge (Galena to Allen) earlier this year in June.

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